Saturday, May 31, 2008

Woman (as featured in Sayoni)

Below is an article I wrote that was first featured in Sayoni at http://blog.sayoni.com/2008/05/21/woman. Do check out Sayoni.com too.

The world is so much easily understood if we saw and believed in everything in binary opposites, and ideally, both ends/poles function in tandem, in contrast, interdependently, symbiotically, and eventually contribute to a whole, a stable system, a status quo.

Where does the woman stand in the world of binary opposites? For millennia, literature, rhetoric and discourses have by default refer to “humanity” as “man”, “humankind” as “mankind”, most random persons as “he” (Freudian slip any one?). This whole, stable system and status quo privileges a dominant kind – the male-oriented. It is gendered and sexed accordingly to toe the line of the androcentric, patriarchal and heterosexist establishment.

What I find puzzling is that women are often described in terms of their functions. A woman is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a child-bearer, a housewife, a slave, an asset, a tradable commodity. These identities are roles, spokes in the wheel of a dominant worldview, almost implying that women are functional to men.

The main problem here is: how do we actually define a woman? Is the woman an onion, with many layers of (male) meanings piled and ascribed upon her? Is the woman a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece equally as meaningful (to the man) put together (by the man)? Is the woman a paint mix of all the colours, eventually acquiring a shade of black, leaving no clue as to colours of which she was comprised?

I am a sucker for structure. Defining a woman is problematic. It’s like using a stick to draw a figure in a trough of sand. The stick and trough are already tools and apparatuses of dominant male ideology. Even the sand in the trough is limited in quantity because it is provided for you by the very ideology you are striving to confront. You could resist by drawing a different picture, but you are still limited by the materials bestowed upon you.

In essence, the lens through which you attempt to see the woman, and the language with which you use to describe the woman, all are crafted by a society and system which already subjugates women. What if the concept of the woman is beyond the description enabled by the stick, the trough, and the amount and even quality of sand?

It is the very same sandbox of heterocentric patriarchy that we come to make sense of sexuality. We are often bombarded with norms and values of the dominant group, “Be a man! Behave like a lady!” and after much socialisation/indoctrination/brainwashing, most of us, when encountering a gay male or female couple, will come to ask, “Who’s the man? Who’s the woman? Who’s on top?”

On the first level, it is obvious this form of curiosity informs of a subscription to binary opposites, and along with it, a certain set of expectations. On the second level, upon closer scrutiny, it seems that the curious is rather quick to sexualise the ‘other’. In asking who’s the man/woman and who’s on top, the curious exposes his/her internalisation of binary oppositions in the domain of sexuality.

Lesbian. I learnt that word when I was 11. It was probably the third word in my queer vocabulary after “Ah Kwa” and “Gay”. I’m not sure if “sissy” counted. Imagine that, the first form of language in which we are socialised when encountering queer folk is abusive and derogatory language. Even in the early moments of learning the word “lesbian” from my playful peers, it was used and spoken in an insulting manner. Now I just call queer people “gay” (as an adjective) or “sexual minorities”, but some persons in the legal profession may have differing opinions about the usage of the latter.

I take great issue, even as a straight person (note that “straight” is originally a gay lingo for heterosexual persons), in the usage of “gay” and “lesbian” as nouns, i.e. you’re a gay/lesbian. It may be mere trivial grammar, but it reduces the person to the functions of sexuality that the word so defines, displacing other identifiable characteristics and traits, a view shared by Alex Au in my last conversation with him. There is more to a person than just an adjective, and all the more should this adjective not be converted into a noun. Society is lazy, and always tempted to simplify and generalise, so in this case, the adjective becomes a noun.

The Oxford English Dictionary even states that “lesbian”, for example, is originally an adjective, referring to someone who came from the island Lesbos, North of the Grecian Archipelago. Arthur J Munby, through Derek Rommel Hudson (Munby: Man of Two Worlds. The life and Diaries of Arthur J. Munby), first mentioned “lesbian” to refer to female homosexuality in 1870. Aldous Leonard Huxley, in Letters (edited by Grover Smith in 1969), then used “lesbian” as a noun in 1925:

“After a third-rate provincial town, colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged Lesbians, which is, after all, what Florence is, a genuine metropolis will be lively.”

The politics of sexual diversity are very complicated, and mainstream dominant values systems do not help their integration. Sexual diversity scares most of us. Some straight people do not understand homosexuality. Some self-identified homosexual people do not understand bisexuality. And some bisexual people, along with the rest of us, do not understand pansexuality. Queer-ness is the symbolic “other” of straight-ness, and both form again a dichotomy! What on earth is going on?

On the planes of heteronormality, the fluidity of sexuality (I am very sorry I haven’t read Foucault on that, shame on me) appears to only exist among queer sexualities, as heterosexuality has walled itself with socio-religious and moral boundaries and control mechanisms. Those who have the privilege to live in and view from the heteronormative vantage point will subscribe to the notion that all other sexualities are deviant and ridiculous.

Of course! Deviant sexualities are ridiculous. That is because our system and structures do not support them. Lesbian mothers cannot be mothers because the law does not allow them to be mothers, and instead slap sanctions and disincentives on them. Janadas Devan wrote twice about lesbian marriage and mothering in Nov 28, 2003 (Straits Times: Brain magnets) and Jul 7, 2007 (Straits Times: Can mum, mum and kids make a family?), with the former adopting a rather economic globalisationist rhetoric created by Richard Florida’s Creative Index thesis, and the latter attracting a moral outcry from conservative members of the public, continuing the debate on homosexuality in Singapore following the St. James Power Station incident.

I take no position on what makes a good family, but I believe that bad parenting and broken families are ‘colour-blind’. Bad parenting and broken families know no boundaries, irrespective of age, gender, race, class, sexuality. You could have a straight couple fighting, straight parents divorcing, and so on; you could also have gay and queer couples in the same position. The response to this is one that evokes the rhetoric of nation-building, “How then are they supposed to have babies?” We do not have to answer that question, because it is derived from the very same mentality that oppresses women, i.e. defining them according to their roles and functions to the dominant status quo. When you attempt to answer that question, you are grabbing the very stick and trough of sand provided by the questioner, and trying to craft an answer, rearranging, reconstructing, and eventually reproducing the dominant ideology that the questioner so internalises. We are not obliged to dignify the questions posed to us by the privileged, but we have the right to pose questions about the privileged and their positions of privilege.

We have seen the revival of Victorian morality, a stowaway in the ship that is Westernisation and globalisation, the prevalence of the English language, the accompanying easy access to some branches of Christianity, culminating in a rather neo-puritanical and ascetic perspective on sexuality and sexual deviance in Singapore. Women, in Victorian era morality, are seen as asexual. Sex is meant for procreation. In a sense, the sexuality of women is a function, and women are thus a function. Moreover, while we should not only point the finger at religion, we should also be ready to look at the patriarchal values and accompanying gender norms we have so blindly embraced, and these come from the many cultures that make up Singapore.

I think lesbian women have it worse in the domains of media representation, especially in Singapore. In my research, almost mirroring Leong Wai-Teng’s research:

“Leong (2005) observes that lesbian women are often represented as being engaged in stormy relationships, and are depicted as “catty, vengeful and treacherous” lovers. Arson and suicides have reportedly been the culmination of such stormy relationships.

A handful of (Straits Times, 2001-2007) articles have discussed lesbian mothering and marriage, while some have regarded lesbianism as an unnatural, breast-binding subculture. Lesbian sex and sexuality are invisible in the ST – a stark contrast to the visibility of gay male sex and sexuality. Lesbian sex continues to be not just a taboo topic for film censors but also an alien and mysterious entity in Singaporean society – an accurate reflection of the androcentric Penal Code which criminalises sex between two men and not two women.”

The mainstream media portrayal of lesbian women, save for Janadas Devan’s articles, is often less than favourable. Stable and loving lesbian relationships are underrepresented. What is worse is that most people, ignorant of lesbian relationships (me included), will have no conception whatsoever of a stable and loving lesbian relationships, and the questions they ask are merely reflective of the patriarchal heterocentrism that so permeates society. What these people understand of gay relationships is mainly centred on the domain of sex (also viewed through a rather heterocentric masculinist lens), because these people have come to exclusivise all the niceties of relationships to a heterosexual one.

Our understanding of gender is sexed. Our understanding of sexuality is gendered. Male, one function; female, another function. The roles of the active penetrator and passive penetrated. Who’s on top and who’s below? At the same time, our understanding of homosexuality, or queerness for that matter, is gendered and sexed. Who is the ‘male’/‘female’? In the process, we forget about the wide ranging definitions of (sexual) attraction and notions of love (and of course, such a rhetoric is acknowledged to discriminate against the asexual, very sorry).

The best we can do is to point out that diversity does exist in many forms. There may be institutionalised celebrations of diversity, sanctioned by the state, the elites and the dominant moral systems. These agencies have unshakable and unbreakable notions of right and wrong, and natural and unnatural, taken to be universal gospel truths. That doesn’t mean your non-institutional beliefs and values have to be shakable and breakable. Their micro-narratives have to be applied to the macrocosmos that is society at large and onus is on them to reconcile with their own rhetoric of diversity.

Diversity should not be celebrated in a way where minority groups become obliged to internalise the very same patriarchal and heterosexist norms, expectations and anxieties that the majority of people do. It should not fall into the same trap that is the politics of instiutionalised multiculturalism/racialism, which has been critically observed to be initiated and perpetuated by one dominant culture/race.

Lesbian women suffer double-marginalisation, for being a woman and being gay. Gay men have the “privilege” of the attention and condemnation, while lesbian women are relatively invisibilised and often unspoken of. I am one of the many people out there who are exposed to the stereotypes and folklore that have taken over the representation and understanding of queer women in general. “She turned lesbian because of a bad relationship with a man.” or “All lesbians bind” or “It’s just a phase.” – all popular explanations that turn into conventional wisdom, sucking away from us the responsibility and initiative to understanding and respecting queer and questioning persons.

Lesbian women as couples are so taboo in society, because this irritates the societal expectations of the roles and behaviours of women. Serious relationships are brushed aside as mere “trends-bian”, lesbian by trend, and taken for granted that these misguided girls will eventually (and are expected to) snap out of this homosexual ludicrousness and be what society wants them to be. Procreation and reproduction, factors of the dominant mode of production, are what society needs.

Society will tell you who and how to love. If you love “correctly”, you will be protected by the state and the many institutions that serve its interest. If you love the “wrong one”, you will be punished, formally and informally. Society will not protect you from abuse, but sometimes legitimise it.

I also feel the open acceptance and inclusion of sexual minorities in Singaporean society should not be buttressed by the rhetoric of the economic imperative. If we are going to talk about queer and questioning sexualities and their integration, it would help a lot if we ditched the whole “liberalist economic globalisation” narrative which insinuates that gay people are a side-effect or a necessary evil for economic progress and sustenance. Women in Singapore have been at the receiving end of such rhetoric: In the 1960s, Singapore “needed to survive”, so women were granted equal education and employment opportunities; in the early 1980s, in view of declining birthrates, women were encouraged to reprioritise their roles (read Michelle Lazar’s (2001) “For the good of the nation: ‘Strategic egalitarianism’ in the Singapore context”). We should by now at least learn something from that.

My lecturer once told me that every democracy should have some republicanism in them, in the sense, the 51% cannot vote to kill the other 49%. In Singapore, we swing to and fro when it comes to leveraging on the rhetoric of democracy, spicing it up with the ideology that is meritocracy, yet mixing it all up with some welfarism and socialist policies to redistribute resources to help the needy. This shows that while you cannot make everyone happy, you can at least make the attempt to listen to, tend to, and represent them – a humble effort in my opinion to stay true to the slogan “No Singaporean gets left behind.”

We should make the effort to allow GLBTQ people to be represented fairly, and rethink the censorship that regularly impedes that. We should also let various role models from the community have the opportunity to be visible and change mindsets and lives. If you wanted to use the rhetoric of democracy, be sure to be consistent with the fact that everyone in this democracy of yours deserves to be visible and represented. If everyone is equal before this construct that is the constitution and law, be sure to be consistent with the fact that everyone in this country has a right to participate in the democratic process. Women can participate, and by women, I mean all.

The funny thing is, on another note, another lecturer said, “Lawyers practise the law, but don’t question it.”

I feel everyone has the right to question the law, without any fear, because everyone has the right to make sense of things for himself/herself. The laws of mainstream society, as they call themselves, should be questioned. All the leveraging and leanings on European authoritative notions of what is natural and unnatural, right and wrong, are creating many divisions in our society. There are many Singaporeans who are experiencing some kind of dissonance everyday because they cannot make sense of the realities and contradictions that confront them, and it is not their fault.

The problem is that we do not question. We accept what is given because it seems so normal for us. We accept the existing divisions and segmentations that define society. Change is difficult. MDA fined SCV $10,000 for showing lesbian intimacy as reported in early April. This is the symbolic denial of lesbianism as part of reality. When you deny it, you would not even have the initiative to discuss it. As mentioned, stereotypical and populist ideas of lesbianism will take over and you get the reality we’re living in now. By denying someone recognition, you deny him/her respect, representation and rights. Janadas Devan has recognised lesbian women. And I do the same, and for all queer and questioning women.

It all starts with some tacit acceptance and I believe it will inspire others to do the same. That is actually pretty easy, and I don’t see why we should complicate things.

Shoving a scholar up your brain to think

I have officially completed my undergraduate studies after the release of the examination results on Friday.

I am very proud to say that I got an A for my thesis, although I had expected a B+ or something. I think it mattered the most considering the amount of time and effort put into it, as well as the large number of individuals who have been engaged to give it shape, direction, purpose and who ultimately made it possible.

With this episode over, I plan for the next essay. There is always the continual struggle to prevent my becoming a one-trick pony owing to my sustained focus on issues pertaining to sexual minorities in Singapore. At the same time, there is a drive to delve deeper into the issue and shine the spotlight on areas otherwise dim or invisible.

For the moment, the research focuses on local media censorship of sexual diversity, or perhaps homosexuality. I foresee it would be a very difficult research in the domain of access. The relevant authorities and the ethics review board will ensure that information is kept at a minimal, and more importantly, the relevant important persons in authority are protected.

As will be anticipated, the ethics review board will delay the application process for research, because it will concern government agencies and the topic of homo/sexuality. These, according to them, are probably deemed "risky" and "sensitive" issues to the "ordinary rational man on the street".

There are some important questions to ask. Among them, 'why is the media like that?'

Economics, power relations, culture and so on. I look forward to exploring these issues.

My previously proposed Masters Thesis topic was on ICTs (information communication technologies) in socio-religious spaces, which seeks to study the role and impact of ICTs in religious communities and organisations. I originally planned to conduct anthropological studies and visit various places of worship and interview relevant persons.

But who am I kidding? I chose it because I wanted to try something new, but felt in doing so, I would be forsaking the chance to improve and deepen my knowledge in issues pertaining to sexual minorities and identity. It is a conscious decision. Sometimes, we have got to stick to the plot.

For the first time in my life, I am a scholar. That is because I will be securing a scholarship (barring any last minute decision to remove it).

"Scholar" is such a dirty word in Singapore. You are only a scholar if you get a scholarship, in which most cases would translate to a tuition sponsorship with or without bond.

Our education system is a modern adaptation of the Chinese Confucian system wherein students from all over the country will sit for the national exams, and the top ones will be filtered and picked to be in positions of authority and power. Seems very meritocratic to me.

In Singapore, the best of the best are filtered too. The intellectual pedigree are systematically separated from the pariah. And the best among the top scorers are given this thing called a scholarship. Their tertiary/further education is fully paid for, and for the luckier ones, they get an allowance on top of the sponsorship.

Government agencies as well as private corporations have jumped at the opportunity to secure these unique talents for the foreseeable future with contracts/bonds attached to the tuition sponsorship, knowing that these bright minds will give them the creative and winning edge as well as a sustainable competitive advantage.

For the rest of society, most of whom are laden with tuition loans to service upon graduation, we call the deserving recipients of tuition grants/sponsorships with bonds "scholars". In the process, I believed we have somehow altered and narrowed its meaning.

A scholar should not be called a scholar for what he/she has done or achieved, but what he/she is doing to contribute to knowledge, or any field of knowledge. In that sense, one does not need to be a recipient of financial grants/sponsorships to be called a scholar.

In Singapore, where we prime and worship economic development, sustenance and progress like a legend and religion, we are only too prone to seeing things in the economic perspective. Things are measured and weighed for their economic benefits and worth. We are surrounded by rhetoric that promote economic rationality and pragmatism. Happiness and dissatisfaction are also intricately intertwined with economic desires and esteem.

Scholarship has long been tied to prestige and to an extent, esteem and self-worth. Its demand is greater than its supply. It seems so lucrative and exclusive. But why is there a demand in the first place? Who created this demand?

As such, the "scholar" is almost an entirely economic entity in the Singaporean political and economic ecosystem. The best mind gets the best reward, and also gets to run the country. In the case of the "scholar", has the pursuit of knowledge been hijacked by extrinsic interests of the domain of politics and corporatisation?

Are the bonding and binding contracts of "scholarships", or rather financial sponsorships with bonds, determining the focus, development and direction of knowledge? "Scholars" are after all recruited to sustain the achievements and growth of organisations and government agencies with vested interest. Can they be scholars if they do not question or challenge? Can they be scholars if these bright minds are recruited to be just spokes in the wheel of the organisation, where everyone spins in the same direction? How can there be knowledge when there is no questioning or challenging?

The reason why we have knowledge and the growth of knowledge is because people challenge conventional wisdoms and taken-for-grantedness. Authority fears being challenged and questioned.

Power is the virginity of any authority that constantly harbours fears of rape.

I believe most scholars (recipients of financial sponsorship) are intelligent, hardworking and individually creative in many ways. Can organisations that recruit them bring the best out of them? If scholars are recruited into government agencies just to follow orders, for example, shouldn't the government just recruit any one who will want to follow?

Our kiasu society is also one of mercenaries, where everyone has a price. We are paid to follow orders, fined and punished for not. In most cases, we are not even rewarded for doing "normal" things, but sanctioned for not doing them. Any way, who benefits the most from this?

If one was given a "scholarship", who will ultimately benefit?

Moreover, there are "scholars" who sign their scholarships and bonds in their late teens and after completing their studies in their early adulthood, feel unhappy. Perhaps it's the "low pay", or perhaps it's the "working environment". Some cannot wait to finish their bond and leave, while some will gather enough funds to break their bond.

Is it the "scholar"'s fault? Is it society's fault? Is it the state's fault?

We are often too quick to dismiss the dissatisfaction as greed - psychological reductionism. We should also be open to the fact that society has socialised us into a form of greed that we cannot do without. The state then uses this mechanism to ensure its position of power is sustained.

The state does not take into account that people are able to change their minds in this respect. They may believe that a 21 year old is mature enough to vote, but simultaneously are eager to exploit 17 and 18 year olds and make them sign long term contracts/bonds.

I don't have the solution where all parties can mutually benefit, because the relationships concerned are always unequal.

For the moment, I will be very delighted and grateful to be granted a financial sponsorship, which happens to be called a scholarship, socially qualifying me as a "scholar". It is more than just personal achievement, but rather an "achievement" of how people have been socialised into believing so.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Tragedy of the Dragon Voter

Let me digress first, would it be defamatory if the media and government kept describing and portraying one Mas Selamat as a very dangerous man, when he has not been formally charged or brought to justice? He was after all, detained without trial. At least a trial could have proven how dangerous he was by listing (casting in stone) the "bad things" he has done. For all the defamation, libel and slander against Mas Selamat, he could probably buy a Premier League football club if he successfully sues his defamers. Let us hope for peace and happiness, and that he is finally caught.

Any how, reading up more about the defamation suit against the Chee siblings, I realised there are some lessons we have to take home. Here are two:

1. Criticism of the ruling political party or its members, may be conflated into criticism of the government.
2. You cannot question the law, for it could be deemed as an insult, whereby the law will punish you.

There is no humanly possible way to ever fault Lee Kuan Yew. He has done so much for Singapore. He is Mr Singapore.

He leverages on lessons of history to put us younger folk in our place. He is after all, part of our history. No one can dispute that.

History gives us solidarity; it also makes us feel guilty and fearful. History can be presented in a way such that us wide-eyed citizens bite it, hook, line and sinker, and believe that our country will forever be delicate and fragile.

History makes us believe in the virtues of meritocracy and that complacency will stunt our economic potential.

History makes us prime economic potential over other desires. Our anxieties follow accordingly. That is why anxieties of freedom are such a non-issue. The anxieties of economic progress overrule the anxieties of love and happiness, for love and happiness become contingent on economic progress.

1988 is an auspicious year, where many couples have bore the dragon baby.

The state has long anticipated the spike in birthrates, and planned to make infrastructural improvements to accommodate the dragon babies. Schools have merged and expanded. Education systems have gradually changed. Universities have expanded. National Service has been reduced to 2 years. Heck, even the style of the government has changed, with the inclusion of rhetoric that makes the state appear to be consultative, compassionate and have an open ear to every view.

Within the next 2 to 5 years, the job market will also strive to accommodate the 1988 dragon babies. Maybe the state might already have plans for this. After all, every child is precious to the country (but I haven't specify whether it's local-born or not, which is of course a whole different issue).

The youngest of the Generation Y's, the growingly technologically savvy, increasingly media literate, I believe these '88 dragon babies will probably be the focus in the next General Elections, as and when the non-independent Elections Committee calls it, either 2011 or 2012. It depends on how the economy is doing too, so it will be timed to perfection to maximise the votes for the ruling party. It would be irrational for any ruling party to not want to stay in power.

The dragon babies will be 23 or 24 come the next election. If I were the ruling party, I would leverage on history to guilt-trap these people, telling them if it weren't for my government's foresight and diligence, they wouldn't have the education, healthcare and so on. "Be grateful!" I would say.

My government has worked hard to ensure that you people did not suffer a dip in standard of living. Of course, I would also address the young couples who have benefitted from my baby bonuses. I would address the graduates who have found employment. I would say, "I did it all for you and I have helped you sustained you socio-economic status!"

I will tell the dragon babies that their grandparents are better taken care of than in the past, now with changes in CPF and welfare policies. On a sidenote, dragon babies were the ones who have been indoctrinated on the little pros and many cons of living in a welfare state, as well as the many merits of a meritocratic society.

This is where governments continue to stay in power. The brave, the talented and the yes-men all combine to form a dynamic team. They thus have the foresight to anticipate opportunities and threats, plus the cunning to leverage on these case studies to remind and guilt-trap their voting citizens.

Being part of history legitimises your preaching history. Moreover, you are not wrong.

The ills of neoliberal capitalism have plagued our society. We are all materialistic. We think it is normal to set material and financial goals, thus legitimising the existence of corporations and business that leverage on these consumerist needs, wants and demands. It would thus verge on pathological to deny materials.

These are the very materials on which the state has come to leverage. Like toys, we babies want them and in the process we are distracted. We feel we need the toys or we would suffer imbalances, dissonance and dissatisfaction with our lives, never mind the various injustices and atrocities that happen around us.

Now the parent has come to say, "My child, I have worked really hard to make sure this toy will always be a possession of yours. Now give me a hug."

Maybe and just maybe, closer to the elections, the state can claim they have somehow found a badly decomposed body of a 1.58m tall man who used to walk with a limp, and that Singapore is finally safe thanks to our diligence and vigilance. It is definitely a good way to keep morale up. Of course, this is not to be taken seriously.

Orchestrate. Engineer. Fix. Everything falls into place.

There are a lot of things almost all of us Singaporeans do not know. Our knowledge is confined to what is told to us. Intelligence will always be on the side of the ruling party and no opposition party will ever be government.

All political opponents are screened by secret intelligence organisations (and followed) and the information provided to government, run by the ruling party. Party members, who are also members of parliament, will use this to their political advantage. Furthermore, there is no way of proving this connection, because everything is probably classified top secret any way.

I won't dare challenge the government, for I too have material desires, thanks to all the ideas put into my young head. My reputation will be continuously attacked and slimed. I may lose my job or not be employed. I may be made bankrupt. I may be made to look insane and ridiculous. And since the ruling party forms the government, I would not dare to criticise the ruling party, because I might be deemed as criticising the government. I will not do anything to threaten its position or reputation.

My parents taught me important things, like "don't talk to strangers" and "don't go into politics; politics is very dirty". So for now, I will just sit on my butt, and type away my opinions.

The next General Elections will be similar to the previous, with a focus on the young voters. We will only know if they harbour the fears and anxieties socialised and indoctrinated into them, or use the savvy and literacy to transcend the materialism and ideas they take for granted to be conventional and correct knowledge.

I will observe with great interest the tactics employed by all contesting parties, as well as the changes in mainstream and internet media policies. Will the dragon bite the hand that claimed to have fed it? (wait, hands can't talk! Sorry, lame joke)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Servin' PPA

I have always been a musician, but you can never survive as a musician in Singapore, unless you wrote Chinese songs, or you "sold your soul" and be some pretty-face pop performer with a good team of songwriters and publicists pulling the right strings.

I have made the more rational choices in aiming to live a debt-free life, and becoming a full-time musician isn't one of them. I could have applied to work for the civil service - all you have to do there is follow the plot and follow some orders. Unfortunately, musicians don't follow the plot.

Below is a song I wrote, in the tune of the Beach Boy's hit song "Surfin' USA". Please check out the Beach Boys. They were a very tight rock and roll band.

I've changed "Servin' USA" to "Servin' PPA", where PPA of course means the "Party of the People's Action". I never said anything about People's Action Party (PAP), did I?

Servin' PPA

If everybody had election,
In Singapu-R-A,
Then everybody'd be voting
For the PPA.
Servants of society -
Civil servants, dude!
A loyal people for Kuan Yew
Servin' PPA.

Mas Selamat was a hoohah (inside outside PPA)
Kan Seng said it's fine (inside outside PPA)
Cos it's too much of a hassle (inside outside PPA)
If he were to resign (inside outside PPA)
No shit is gonna happen, (inside outside PPA)
Cos of the OSA (inside outside PPA)
Everybody's gone servin'
Servin' PPA.

The state has planned out their route
The one they'll take real soon
They get seconded to stat boards
Obey the Lee Hsien Loong
Most of them are scholars
All bonded to this day
Tell the people they're servin'
Servin' PPA.

They gave us excess monies (inside outside PPA)
And GST rebates (inside outside PPA)
Made Chee Soon Juan look real bad (inside outside PPA)
Bankrupt like JBJ (inside outside PPA)
We're censored to the fulla (inside outside PPA)
By the MDA (inside outside PPA)
Everybody's gone servin'
Servin' PPA

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Freedom in the Net (pun intended)

I hope the title was punny enough.

Regulation of internet media content has been proposed by an independent team to be expressed through community moderation.

Ng E-Jay wrote in the Straits Times Online Forum (May 14):

"The group believes that many of society's legitimate concerns about the abuse of free speech can be addressed through community moderation. One possible approach is to organise a citizen-based Internet Content Consultative Committee (IC3) which would issue recommendations whenever controversies arise regarding Internet content, for example, offering its views when content providers are alleged to have behaved irresponsibly. The objective over time is to subject Internet content to public debate, replacing intervention by the state with the people's own judgment."

I think the issue of representation poses a huge dilemma for such a team or committee. Despite consisting of individuals of diverse background and experience, how can we be certain that the committee will act in the various interests of the community at large? What are the limits to their pluralist policies and measures?

It is also assumed that the committee of individuals are of a certain socio-economic background, of a certain education and literacy level. Then how can we be certain they act in the general interest of the community or society at large?

Who and what is the "community"? Does the majority vote/view of the "community" count more than the minority vote/view? To which groups do the decisions of the "community" benefit, and to what extent? In the wake of such decisions by the "committee", who gains more and who loses?

Who is the "public" in "public debate"? Is "public debate" all inclusive? What about the less technologically savvy? What about the less articulate? Surely, they have concerns and interests too, but there exists barriers to their participation in the contestation of interests.

When we talk about "internet freedom", it is "internet freedom" for who, what groups, which socio-economic stratum, literacy level, gender, age, political beliefs, even sexuality - in the end, which group of people benefit the most.

In agreement with some of the proposals made by the 13 bloggers, namely the proposal to abolish election advertising, I believe everyone has a right to information. Thus, such a proposal is obviously premised on the belief that everyone deserves to know what they would want to know - in this case, political party information. After all, a party like the PAP has first-hand information from the civil service and intelligence departments ISD and SID (which ultimately follow the directions set out by various Ministers), plus a huge community of grassroots volunteers/leaders and even the People's Association (given that MPs and Ministers have direct access and leadership over these groups), so it could always compete with opposition parties in the domain of the internet media. Furthermore, I don't think the ruling party has anything to worry about.

When we warn about taking "freedom" for granted, we often conceive of the repercussions of people who do take it for granted, and abuse it. However, this is only at one level of the problem. At another level, we need to appreciate the social and political reality and context in which "freedom" resides. We should ask the question, whenever "freedom" is concerned, to what or whom is "freedom" does concern? Whose "freedom" are we talking about? "Freedom" for who, for what and from what? Does this "freedom" empower certain groups, yet oppress others? Does this "freedom" challenge or sustain existing mindsets and ideologies? What does it take to be "free"?

And when we encourage "responsibility", what kind of "responsibility" are we talking about? Is it a form of responsibility which benefits certain groups of people or uphold certain belief systems? Does everyone have the same perception of the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Can we be free from responsibility? Is it because by being what society deems as "responsible", we slowly struggle to maintain our individual happiness and survival needs?

If responsibility is defined by a moral code, established and protected by a moral numerical majority, doesn't this kind of "responsibility" only serve to exclusively and unequivocally protect their interests? In a sense, the role of "responsibility" is to protect its insecurity and paranoia. It has become so that we do not question the definition of "responsibility" itself.

Society, its system and institutions, all do not incentivise the questionings targeted at the foundations of their beliefs. We are all lawyers in a sense, where we practise the "law", but never question it. There are so many sanctions, legal and social, against such questioning.

The moral of the story is simple. You can't make everyone happy. Then again, the definition of "happy" here depends on how you are socialised into defining it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Aljunied: Litter Wonderland

I live in Aljunied GRC. The Member of Parliament in charge of my constituency is Yeo Guat Kwang. Unfortunately, I don't know who he is, or what he looks like. But who cares, as long as he lets his work on the constituency do the talking, I am okay with him being almost anonymous in the neighbourhood.

Wait a minute! He is anonymous. And what work are we talking about? There's no work to do any talking at all. Aljunied's trash index is tops.

Any way, my family live on the top floor of one HDB flat. Our toilet ceiling had wet patches, thanks to some water seeping and leak, affecting the paint. Town council did not offer a solution. According to HDB rules, any such matter will involve the upper floor and lower (affected) floor paying 50-50 for repairs. But in our case, who is going to pay the other 50%? Town Council or HDB? Hell, it's not our fault our ceiling got patchy. It's not as if my whole family climbed onto the top of our HDB flat and peed on it till the ceiling of the top floor got wet patches. Maybe Town Council and HDB are working very hard to pass the buck and avoid responsibility.

The government and the people that make up it obviously hail from the Enlightenment Humanist period. They isolate actions, crime, motivations and behaviour based on human rationality. If more bans, fines, sanctions and disincentives are enforced, citizens are assumed to become more obedient. Running a government in Singapore should be very easy, just punish punish punish, because life and human beings are simple. Human relations and motivations are simplified and isolated to cause-and-effect linearity.

It is thus a brilliant idea to conceive of increasing the conservancy charges of the dirty constituency. Maybe that will logically decrease the litter! It's all cause-and-effect, isn't it? Maybe my neighbourhood won't smell like urine. Maybe the auntie/uncle on the second and third floor of my flat will not throw their bread and rice (to feed the pigeons), their cigarette buds and the occasional sanitary pad.

Welcome to Aljunied, where cars get baptised with bread!

I have a better solution yet. Why not get MP Yeo Guat Kwang to come visit his constituency everyday? Rationally speaking, the Town Council will want to polish his apple(s) and mobilise more cleaners to clean up the place, so Yeo will see a clean place. Before the MP visits, the cleaners will always clean the place up, so the MP (who probably does not live in a HDB flat) will never be able to experience the realities of living in a HDB estate.

There are people who have been relocated from the kampongs, and there are also crazy people, all living harmoniously with the rest of us in Aljunied GRC. It's just a mix of culture and some degree of uncivic-minded insanity that we are unfortunate enough to be a litter wonderland that smells like piss.

If you want Aljunied to be clean, get the MPs to visit their constituencies and neighbourhoods everyday. All the respective town councils will be sweating and working their butts off trying to roll the red carpet by erasing the daily crap residents experience.

If you want Aljunied to be clean, pay you conservancy charges for the next couple of years and then you start to vote. *hint *hint


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The celebration of heterosexuality

The following is a letter published in Straits Times online forum.

Minimum age for Grid Girls contest should be 18

I am writing in to object to the minimum age requirement to join the SingTel Grid Girls competition.

I think it is inappropriate that a company such as SingTel be seen organising a competition that encourages the sexual objectification of young girls. I question the rationale of having 16 years as the minimum entry age. Where do we draw the lines as adults in protecting our children?

Sex sells. That is a fact but there is such a thing as corporate and social responsibility. Let's not kid ourselves as to what these girls are being used to do. Holding flags before the race? Right. Why girls? Why not some handicapped person? Can't a disabled person do the job just as well? Shouldn't we take the opportunity to generate awareness for the less fortunate perhaps? It would be really interesting to see how the organisers explain that this is not an exercise in sexual objectification of young women.

If there are adult women out there who wish to sell themselves in such a manner, they are old enough to decide for themselves. However, the line should be drawn when the minimum age is 16 years old. I would have thought that the age should have been 18 years old at the minimum.

Winnie Ang (Ms)

Here's one view. Open market, open competition, all in the spirit of neo-liberal capitalism. When corporations are competing for consumer dollar, what better tactic to use than to hire teenage girls to do the "marketing" and get the publicity. After all, they will be renumerated for their services. Sexual objectification becomes necessary in such an economic climate.

Going along this line, there are institutions that stand to gain and lose in such an economic environment. Religious institutions that pride themselves in upholding consistent values and morality will obviously see this as a threat.

Social institutions (like the family) that have been well-socialised into internalising the gender norms, roles and expectations also become threatened by sexual objectification. It is part of the package that is gender norms/roles/expectations that we come to create a science or a set of knowledge that defines for us the notion of "too young" or "old enough".

The concept of puberty for example has become almost solidified with the many layers of medical and social ascriptions and prescriptions heaped upon it. It also requires the power and stamp of approval of the ruling classes and political elite to immortalise this knowledge. Our understanding of morality will just gradually change, and follow accordingly.

Is 16 "too young" or "old enough"? If society wants to diagnose it as "too young", it will prescribe a set of protocols and procedures, sanctions, rules and regulations, just to make sure it fits into what it thinks of as "too young". Same goes for "old enough". Now, apply that to "natural" and "unnatural", you get the picture.

If children are impressionable or vulnerable, why are religious institutions allowed to engage them? Of course, we can take for granted that religion is a "good" thing, as approved by the state and most members of society. But why then are some religious doctrine and organisations encouraging some degrees of social exclusion, while some deal with violence and martyrdom, some religious groups fight and kill each other? Are these realities okay for the people who are classified as "young"? So what is "good" here?

What is the "better good" any way? Does 2 positives "better" and "good" equate to a positive? What kind of positivity are we talking about? Positive for who? Beneficial to whom?

The letter writer Winnie Ang also mentioned about corporate and social responsibility. Unfortunately, corporate and social responsibility is built on foundation consisting a strong economic and commercial responsibility and legal obligation. There will be no corporation if there wasn't any commercial responsibility (to stakeholders) and legal obligation (don't break the law). Hiring young girls and sexually objectifying them fulfills the fundamental goal, that is the economic responsibility. Girls bring the crowds, crowds bring the money, and money brings oppression (okay, bad joke!).

Grid girls are a good marketing strategy. Look at the strategy of Ladies' Night. Free entry and incentives bring the girls, girls bring the crowds, crowds bring the money. Women are just used as bait to attract money. Clubs and pubs have to be competitive to survive and Ladies' Night is one good way to do so.

Let me take another turn here. Rooted deep in all these sexual objectification is the strong leveraging on the taken-for-granted phenomenon we call heterosexuality. Capitalism and sexuality intertwine here, but I'll focus on the latter now.

Such marketing strategies, hiring girls as man-bait, is the glorification, promotion, endorsement, justification and celebration of heterosexuality (and the heterosexual lifestyle!!!). We are not talking about heteronormality here, but heterosexuality. Allow me to politicise heteronormality and heterosexuality. Well, the people who usually complain about this, I assume, will most likely complain about the glorification, promotion, endorsement, justification and celebration of homosexuality. They are morally conservative, yes they are. Nothing wrong with morally conservative people choosing their lifestyles and behaviours (snap!).

Maybe we are really sex-negative. Don't celebrate this, don't celebrate that, just be celibate. Legislate to fornicate to procreate.

So who are the perverts here? Are the perverts the ones who celebrate, or those who don't allow any celebration?

The celebration of heterosexuality is everywhere to be seen. MRT ads for example, you have happy dad, happy mum, and their 2 happy children and all that (although they are Chinese, middle-class, wear Western clothes and most likely to be English-speaking, and most likely to be Christian). In the newspapers, we see lots of counseling and advice that ultimately endorse heterosexuality. Aren't all these apparatuses that celebrate heterosexuality? Heterosexuality was once pathologised! Why are we celebrating an ex-disease?

In Singapore, we can celebrate heterosexuality, but we can't celebrate other sexualities. Maybe if the government and the "moral majority" could just stand up and say, "YES we celebrate heterosexuality and nothing else, and we are proud to create and uphold double standards! We only care about the feelings of the numerical majority, as how we rightfully define. Our concept of pluralism is flexible so it can accommodate our economic agenda and sustain our position of dominance!"

We have to be honest with ourselves. I doubt sexual minorities have much to hide. They're always wanting to be heard, but censorship and the moral police have too often obstructed and blocked them out. Attention is always diverted away from the inconsistencies, insecurities and the desires of the self-professed moral majority, and thrust upon the perceived and stereotypical ills of sexual minority-related issues. What is there to hide or to protect when we are all just kettles and pots?

When Mediacorp Channel 5 vice-president announced that the channel was going to revamp its programmes to be up to date and in touch with viewers, so as to arrest declining viewership, and it is about time, I would look forward to more proper portrayals and fair representations of minority segments of our community. You just have to keep it real, dog. Not only sexual minorities, you could have single parents, destitute people, ISD detainees, and so on. Everyone has to be represented and not be invisibilised. Happy mid-week.

The Homosexuality Debate Goes On (2005 article)

The following article was written by a younger me almost three years ago. It was done for a class assignment on media writing. I didn't really like the way I wrote it, but still, I realised I had to put it on this blog, but have always procrastinated.

The article sticks out like a sore thumb, given the project's "adopted charity/organisation". Those who know what I'm talking about will probably think I'm a nutcase. Do have a look at the link provided later.

I will be providing afterthoughts in the next entry on what the interviewees have said. When I interviewed Joanna Koh-Hoe, I almost vaguely recall her suggesting I was "one of them" because of the questions I asked. I guess I should then try to register a society "People Like Them".

I genuinely cannot remember why I was actually interested in the topic of homosexuality during the course of the module and project. It was either probably I wanted to go against the direction of the team, which was basically aiming to copy and paste content from the adopted organisation's releases. The adopted organisation, which focuses on the family (pun intended), is so "holy" and upright, and it was probably expected that all the articles written by my 20+ project mates (yes there were more than 20 of us) were probably going to be equally as saintly.

Maybe it was done out of anger, to spite the direction the group was taking. I think I might have been rather apathetic to sexual minority issues. I just took on the topic because preliminary research on the adopted organisation revealed itself to be supremely homophobic. I started to ask the interview questions in my selfish campaign to spite my groupmates and the project.

Somehow along the way, I got more than I bargained for. Yes, I hate group work, and people probably think my EQ is as dismal as Singapore's press freedom ranking. But along the way, I found something I believed in. And now, I believe in what I do, just like everyone does and is entitled to do. So I do my small part and express my views in support of sexual minority rights. It's funny how minorities fight so hard to stop becoming "minorities" - as in the label with which certain kinds of unfavourable treatment is often provided.

For a better picture, just browse the weblink provided, and please don't call me a nutcase.

The Homosexuality Debate Goes On
by Ho Chi Sam
Fourth quarter, 2005
http://linda.perry.net/affinity/homosexuality.htm

The debate on homosexuality and homosexual rights is ongoing. Should we be conservative and continue to marginalise the sexual minority, deeming their lifestyle immoral and sinful? Or should we adopt a libertarian perspective and accept and respect such lifestyle diversity? More importantly, can homophobia in Singapore society be cured?

With a different sexual orientation from the majority of the population, the sexual minority do have problems. Children and teenagers who discover they may have homosexual tendencies do not get the proper help and support they require, says Laurence Leong, a senior sociology lecturer in the National University of Singapore, whose current research covers news media, human rights and sexual policies.

“They turn to the church. The church will say it (homosexuality) is sinful,” Leong said, “So they turn to the school. The school will further reinforce that homosexuality is not right. So they turn to their parents. Parents are heterosexual. So who can they turn to?”

“In Singapore , we have many policies like housing policies and health policies. Along with these policies, we have welfare, which is implicit. However, there are no explicit sexual policies, and the same can be said about welfare.”

Leong says religion is generally conservative towards the issue of homosexuality. In a brief survey of 10 male youths and 10 female youths, all agreed that the values of any religion all point to heterosexuality. “Homosexuality is not natural,” said a male polytechnic student, 19, who is a Catholic.

This is echoed by Joanna Koh-Hoe, vice president of Focus on the Family Singapore. “Homosexuality in any religion, not only Christianity, is a sin, and morally it is wrong.”

“It is just human logic. Nature won't put a man and a man together and then they have kids,” said Koh-Hoe, who is an NUS psychology graduate. She said she believed “certain basic values should be homogenised” and “there should be a need for governing guidelines” so that the institution of the family is maintained.

However, there is a church that holds different beliefs. Free Community Church and its ministry, Safehaven, provide the Christian sexual minority population a place for worship and counseling. The Church believes that diversity should be embraced and society cannot be easily homogenised.

Safehaven is “gay affirmative and provides a platform for gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians to develop their spirituality, particularly those with faith-sexuality conflicts,” according to its website. Safehaven also provides seminars and talks. The content ranges from sexual responsibility, AIDS awareness and Bible studies.

In a July 5, 2003 , Straits Times article and July 7, 2003 , edition of Time, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced that gay people would not be discriminated against in employment by the state. This was greeted with a protest by the “Love Singapore ” movement. The movement, started in 1995 by Apostle Lawrence Khong from Faith Community Baptist Church , is supported by a local network of Protestant churches.

Both Dr Leong and Siew Meng Ee, 30, a pro-temp member of People Like Us, see the campaign of intolerance and protest against the sexual minority as one that can be mistaken for “hate” and “hate speech.”

The ‘Love Singapore ' movement believes that “homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle” and use the agenda of religion and the state to justify its cause.

“The state is patriarchal. Its values are patriarchal,” Leong said, “Why is religion used to justify intolerance towards groups? Shouldn't religions preach acceptance? Why is there a need to draw a line between people, accepting one, rejecting another?”

People Like Us is a society that strives to promote tolerance and the integration of the sexual minority into Singapore society. Many see them as promoters of homosexual lifestyle, instead of educators on tolerance.

Siew said, “People Like Us couldn't get registered as an organisation (in Singapore ) because general attitudes are still homophobic.”

Most counselors in Singapore offer reparative therapies for sexually confused persons. “In reparative therapy, they try to convert the individual who has homosexual tendencies to become a heterosexual,” Siew said, “They believe that homosexuality is wrong and can be corrected through counseling. I've a friend who went through the sessions, and he comes out even more confused.

“Counselors won't accept the fact that these persons-in-need may be homosexual, and they won't allow them to embrace their natural sexuality.”

Siew believes that troubled gays and sexually confused persons need help and counseling, just like normal people with problems. “It's very easy to say it is a sin and not do anything about their problems.”

Focus on the Family Singapore does provide counseling sessions. Koh-Hoe said, “However, when the individual is accepting of his homosexuality, Focus on the Family will refer him to relevant help groups and counselors to follow up.”

Joanna acknowledged that Focus is aware that there are teenagers who struggle with their sexual identity. Counseling and education are provided, she said, converting these teenagers to heterosexuality. “We have a values system and we want to promote these values, so we don't promote homosexuality,” she said.

A “Social Attitudes of Singaporeans” survey was conducted in 2001 by the former Ministry of Community Development and Sports, now the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports. The survey found that 85% of the 1,841 respondents find homosexual behaviour unacceptable.

This lack of acceptance can lead to inequality for the sexual minority. “(Homosexuality and equality) will always be a touchy topic. You need to be a minority, so you can see things (the majority of) people normally don't,” Leong said

So what is the solution to curing homophobia in Singapore society?

“They (the sexual minority) must be successful in what they do. This gains them the respect and recognition. That will decrease homophobia,” Leong said.

Siew summed up it, “Sexuality is just a small part of life, like schooling, working and getting up to brush your teeth. We just want these biases to be removed.”

Monday, May 5, 2008

Everyone deserves media representation

(Unpublished - May 3, 2008)

Everyone deserves media representation

Dear Editor,

I refer to Andrew Lim’s letter ‘Gay issue in the US far from settled’, which is the latest in a series of letters addressing the recent fine on Mediacorp for airing a gay couple with an adopted child.

I take no interest in looking beyond our shores and benchmarking our practices with that of other countries. Ultimately, we should not allow the trading of case studies obscure the issues that are immediately affecting us.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore may continue to work diligently “strike a good balance in light of the broader interests of our society” as Lim mentioned.

However, MDA should be obliged to specifically state what these “broader interests” are. Moreover, we should also be critical and ask what kind of people actually benefit more from the striking of such a “balance”.

Media content regulation should not be aimed at invisibilising realities.

If people are invisibilised by the media, it will only pave the way for stereotypes and misrepresentations to dictate how we view them.

Furthermore, with regards to homosexuality, there is a common belief that it is a practice, a lifestyle, and also a corruptive influence. These do little to address the stereotypes self-identified “normal people” have of gay people, but instead perpetuate them.

Stereotypes and misrepresentations of gay people will in turn make a social environment conducive for marginalisation, invisibilisation or even abuse.

Society’s preoccupation with the roots or causes of homosexuality has come to deflect attention away from the social and institutional discrimination of sexual minorities in Singapore.

Alternative families are still families and it can be rather audacious to believe that observing such families can directly influence us to start our own alternative families.

The depiction of happy alternative families does not equate to their glorification, normalisation or mainstreaming.

This is only characteristic of a siege mentality assumed by the people who see themselves as morally upright or conservative, and are highly suspicious of values and observations inconsistent with theirs.

We can be a plural society, because a 51 percent majority cannot possible vote to kill a 49 percent minority.

Singapore is about differences and celebrating them.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thank you Mr Lim

In 2003, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, talked about the non-discriminatory hiring practices of the civil service, which specifically extended to sexual minorities.

Two "classic" letters later surfaced in the Straits Times Forum page on July 15, 2003, one by George Lim Heng Chye, a regular champion of a certain brand of public and sexual morality, and another by Phiroze Abdul Rahman, whose name is associated with the Association of Muslim Professionals when Google-d.

Paying closer attention to the perennial moral crusader that is George Lim Heng Chye, I am most intrigued by the use of identity in the process of politicisation and the contestation of ideas. He proudly claims to be heterosexual and married to a heterosexual woman. He is also proud to be very fertile, and also sufficiently wealthy, to have four children (as of 2003), who are also heterosexual (as of 2003).

Most importantly of all, George Lim Heng Chye inspired me to use the very same tactic of "identity politics" to play the game he has been playing. A letter-writer who claims to be X, believing in X and in the process vilifying, condemning, criticising and discrediting Y. In this case, X and Y represent two of many different identities, sexuality. George Lim Heng Chye is straight, and he speaks for a kind of morality that benefits and privileges straight people, legally, politically and economically.

Now I know why queer and questioning people are so pissed off. I had always thought that sexual minorities just have an axe to grind, make some noise once in a while. But we are always so ready to individualise and isolate problems, and not link them to the larger context.

When preaching, prescribing and propagating their brand of morality, many have come to identify themselves as parents, straight people, concerned people, married people, etc. They are engaging in identity politics to uphold the heteronormative status quo! And it is this heteronormative status quo that protects the dominant group's usage of identity politics as a strategy to sustaining it. Hand in hand. As for other ideas that question the status quo, they are accused of using "identity politics", which has now become a dirty word, because it is being applied to the marginalised group. What on earth is happening?

As such, I decided to do what George Lim Heng Chye did, and identify myself as a straight person. "I am a straight member of the public who wants to understand issues that sexual minorities confront, especially in an Asian country like Singapore."
http://www.straitstimes.com/ST+Forum/Story/STIStory_146526.html

Angela Thiang Pei Yun, who did her final year law paper under the supervision of Thio Li-Ann, titled "Pride and prejudice: Law, (im)morality and politics of homosexuality in Singapore", shot back. She said she "fail to see the relevance of Mr Ho's confession of being 'straight' in the context of a rational and informed debate in matters of public interest. What matters is the substance and veracity of what is being said, not the identity of the speaker."
http://www.straitstimes.com/ST%2BForum/Story/STIStory_147142.html

You see, not all straight and married people think the same way. We are not homogeneous. The problem with this world is that while persons can handle difference, it is people who can't handle heterogeneity, because it upsets the group. It is all about power and survival of the group. Hence, there is always leveraging on identity politics on the side of the majority, which is sometimes identified as the democratic, numerical, moral majority. Are they trying to herd the flock and vote to annihilate the minorities?

I call on straight people to speak up if they feel a sense of injustice. You can never have your animal rights and environmentalism if you can't even respect another human being. Imagine "stop killing the whales; but do carry on with beating the fags!" slogans.

Below are the two "classic" letters.

Govt should rethink hiring of gays

I am a heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman and we have four heterosexual children. We believe that the right upbringing by parents will prevent improper and deviant future behaviours.

We also believe in a God who loves both the heterosexual and the gay, but He hates the sin of immorality.

So now you know where I would stand on the issue of the Government hiring gays for even sensitive jobs ('Govt more open to employing gays now'; ST, July 4). Or is there no more right or wrong regarding the hiring of gays to help govern the country?

The saying 'Love the sinner, hate the sin' is my guiding principle. I accept a criminal, a gay, a gangster or a hooligan, but I reject his behaviour. Why? Because as human beings we have a conscience to distinguish between what is good and what is bad.

There is no greyness between white and black. White is white, and black is black. There is no relativity in morality. Morality is absolute. Yet the guiding principle is love.

So is it morally right to hire gays for key government positions? It would take a perfect government not to hire them as pressure mounts over the years to accept gays in practically any job.

Our society, including religious groups, has been bending backwards towards tolerance of immoral behaviour. A government that does not appease the wishes of its people may not last long. On the other hand, many people still expect our Government to take sound and responsible action to protect young citizens from the corrupting influence of immoral behaviour.

I am concerned about the consequences of the Government's action. Firstly, the Government has shown quite clearly by its action that it has lost its moral authority.

Then there are other repercussions: gay leaders will one day advocate gay marriages and, as if to complete the cycle, they will promote the adoption of orphaned children by married gay couples.

I am concerned for our next generation of children. Will they be able to tell right from wrong? By accepting what the Government is doing now, we are not helping our children to see the corrupting and subtle influences of such a lifestyle.

I disagree with the Government that people are born that way and hence helpless to change. Gays are never born that way. The law of nature has been that you are either born a male or a female, hence the proper behaviour follows.

However, because of negative influences in their lives, homosexualism and lesbianism set in and took control of the person's mind, soul and body.

Most gays are reported to have had a history of being sexually abused when they were children. Others mentioned that they had grown up in homes without a father or father figure and subsequently rejected their own sexual identities. Still others admitted that their attraction to the same sex started when they allowed themselves to be addicted to pornography.

Yet the person himself still has a choice as to whether to accept or reject this immoral behaviour. Some people may be comfortable with the change in views, but I am not and will continue to educate my children in the right way.

I am surprised that leaders of religions like Islam and Christianity have not voiced their disagreement openly. These two religions have very strong views about the right behaviours where human sexuality is concerned.

Religions play an important role in society and it is most ironical and sad that religious leaders are refraining from making their stand known publicly in matters of sexual morality.

I would like to appeal to the Government to reverse its decision to hire gays for key jobs. History has shown time and again that great empires fell because of failing human values and shaky moral principles. Does the phrase 'the chain is as strong as the weakest link' sound familiar?

We know that yeast causes dough to rise, so in the recent Sars outbreak its containment depended on not leaving even one virus at large to infect people.

Likewise, the majority of the public should make known its disapproval of hiring gays for key government jobs. This seemingly harmless action today will not bode well for our children tomorrow.

GEORGE LIM HENG CHYE

I am disturbed by just the thought that gays are ordinary people like you and me. Their sexual orientation is more than just a deviant desire which needs to be corrected, and their lifestyle remains questionable.

If we accept gays as a sexual minority, then subtly we are telling ourselves and our children that it is acceptable to have sex with the same gender.

I would encourage gays to rethink the way they live, being man or woman. Getting back to religion or the basics of sex is the right thing to do.

And, hopefully, they would realise that they have to change. They should not allow themselves to be blinded by other parts of the world where the gay community is accepted, nor jump onto the bandwagon on the pretext of evolution of a country or people's maturity.

To be blunt, even in the animal kingdom, a tiger will look for a tigress to share their lives together.

PHIROZE ABDUL RAHMAN

Tiger and tigress? This is a classic. Well, there are many animals that engage in "unnatural" behaviours such as homosexual behaviours, having fetishes, masturbation, inter-species sexual intercourse, and so on. Phiroze Abdul Rahman had done an excellent exercise on anthropomorphisation of tigers, that "share their lives together". Maybe black widow spiders can share their lives together too.

I believe that change always occurs in small steps. There is something very perverse about the notion of "morality" in Singapore, as held by the people who claim to be the moral majority (identity politics again?). As such, injustices and inequalities manifest themselves, thanks to such complacency (see Lee Kuan Yew) of ideology. Now, there are people who are questioning this complacency, which assumes morality and values to be absolute, thus perpetuating a lot of phobias. It is the very complacency that sustains these phobias.

I have to thank Mr Lim for the "flame bait" of a letter, and the many many letters he has written to ensure that Singapore maintains its moral foundation. I believe despite our differences in opinion, both of us share similar values too. He has inspired me to write to the Straits Times Forum. If the Straits Times Forum can publish that, it can sure publish almost every other damn thing.

George Lim Heng Chye has figured rather prominently in my dialogues, even with my wife-to-be. She is always excited when she sees his name in the papers, and she will go "WTF?", which does not mean "what's the fuss?".

No sarcasm is needed, nor intended in this article. I feel that people like George Lim Heng Chye have the right to air his views in the mainstream media, but he has to be prepared to be questioned and critiqued on the very same medium (mainstream or alternate) by people like myself. It has to be clear that it is his views that have to be questioned and not his person. The same goes for Thio Li-Ann, and no one should be physically threatened or insulted. Views are views; people are people.

Without George Lim Heng Chye, in my opinion, there wouldn't be civil dialogue in the mainstream media (and of course, flaming), pertaining to GLBTQ issues in Singapore. It was he who opened the debate, and allowed others to enter it and engage the topic. As said, when you openly champion public morality, you have to prepare yourself to be challenged, and we also have to be grateful the mainstream media has opened up a little bit to allow such challenges. Maybe that is the result of the rhetoric of an "open society" as purported by the Lee Hsien Loong administration.

Maybe next time, I can start my letters with "I am a heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman...", and of course, we hope to have happy and healthy children some day, and teach them to be well-adjusted and loving, and probably not use analogies such as straws in noses to explain unnatural phenomena.